Supreme Court rules for Black Georgia death row inmate

By Lawrence Hurley

 

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday effectively overturned a Black man’s 1987 conviction for murdering a white woman, rebuking Georgia prosecutors for unlawfully excluding Black potential jurors in picking an all-white jury that condemned him to death.

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Timothy Foster

The 7-1 ruling handed a major victory to Timothy Foster, who is 48 now and was 18 at the time of the 1986 killing of Queen Madge White, a 79-year-old retired schoolteacher, in Rome, Georgia. Prosecutors, however, still could seek a new trial.
Black convicts make up a disproportionately high percentage of death row inmates in the United States. Opponents of capital punishment assert that the American criminal justice system discriminates against Black defendants. During jury selection, all four Black members of the pool of potential jurors were “struck” by prosecutors, meaning they were removed from consideration. Prosecutors gave reasons not related to race for their decisions to exclude them.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the ruling, said prosecution notes introduced into evidence that shed light on the jury selection “plainly belie the state’s claim that it exercised its strikes in a ‘color blind’ manner. The sheer number of references to race in that file is arresting.”
The notes showed that the prosecution marked the names of the black prospective jurors with a “B,” highlighted them in green and circled the word “Black” next to the race question on juror questionnaires.
The prosecution gave reasons for excluding potential Black jurors including that they “did not make enough eye contact” during questioning and were “bewildered,” “hostile,” “defensive,” “nervous” and “impudent.”
Roberts said prosecutors “were motivated in substantial part by race” when two of the potential jurors were excluded. Two such strikes based on race “are two more than the Constitution allows,” Roberts added.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1986, the same year as this murder, that it is unconstitutional to take race into account when excluding potential jurors.
Prosecutors said Foster broke into the elderly woman’s home in the middle of the night, broke White’s jaw, sexually assaulted her, beat and strangled her, and stole items from her house. Foster later confessed to killing White, according to court papers.
At the time of the trial, Foster’s legal arguments regarding jury selection failed. But in 2006 his lawyers obtained access to the prosecution’s jury selection notes, which showed that the race of the Black potential jurors was highlighted, indicating “an explicit reliance on race,” according to Foster’s attorneys.
According to court documents filed by Foster’s lawyers, the lead prosecutor said of his exclusion of the potential black jurors: “All I have to do is have a race-neutral reason, and all of these reasons that I have given the court are racially neutral.”
Foster’s lawyer, Stephen Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights, said the legal challenge would not have succeeded without the notes. “This discrimination became apparent only because we obtained the prosecution’s notes which revealed their intent to discriminate. Usually that does not happen. The practice of discriminating in striking juries continues in courtrooms across the country,” Bright said.
The Supreme Court’s ruling threw out a Georgia Supreme Court decision rejecting Foster’s claim about prosecutorial misconduct in jury selection, meaning a state court will now reverse his conviction.
The sole dissenter in the ruling was the court’s only Black justice, Clarence Thomas. Thomas said the case should have been sent back to state courts to determine whether Foster’s claim could proceed.

Rep. Terri Sewell’s Bill to name Selma Post Office after Voting Rights Activist Amelia Boynton Robinson passes The House of Representatives

Terri Sewell names P. O.

 

Washington, D.C. – Today, House of Representatives voted to pass H.R. 4777, Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s (D-AL) bill to name the USPS facility in Selma, Alabama after voting rights activist Amelia Boynton Robinson: “I was delighted that House of Representatives passed my legislation to name the Selma Post Office after Voting Rights Activist Amelia Boynton Robinson.  Mrs. Boynton Robinson was known as the matriarch of the voting rights movement.
Her life and legacy epitomized strength, resilience, perseverance and courage — the same characteristics that embody the City of Selma where she made such a significant impact.
Amelia Boynton Robinson is also well-known for braving the front line of the Selma march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge where she was brutally attacked on Bloody Sunday. A warrior for what was right and a brave soldier in the fight, Amelia Boynton Robinson was a champion in the movement that lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“A trailblazer, Amelia Boynton Robinson also made history in 1964 as the first black woman to run for Congress from the State of Alabama. I know the journey I now take as Alabama’s first black Congresswoman was only made possible because of her courage, tenacity and faith.  As a daughter of Selma, I am honored to sponsor this legislation, and I can think of no more deserving person to name the Selma post office after than Amelia Boynton Robinson. She truly represents the heart, spirit and essence of Selma”, Sewell stated.
“Again, I was incredibly pleased to see my legislation pass the House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support, as well as the support of the entire Alabama Congressional delegation.  I now look forward to the passage of the bill through the Senate so that President Obama can sign the bill into law”.
Mayor George Evans of Selma was also pleased to see the bill pass the House, stating “I am delighted that Congresswoman Sewell’s bill passed with such overwhelming support.  Amelia Boynton Robinson put herself and her family’s lives at risk and this is a long overdue honor and I am in support of naming the post office after her.”

Washington D. C. ‘Big Chair Chess Club’ holds day of fun

By Sam P.K. Collins
Special to the NNPA News
Wire from AllEyesOnDC.com

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Ricky Norman, manager of the Big Chair Chess Club (center), shows two youngsters how to play chess during Chess Fun Day at the groups Deanwood location in Washington, D.C.(Ben Washington/AllEyesOnDC.com)

For young, Black men living in Washington, D.C., the game of chess provides an opportunity to develop critical thinking skills that prove essential in avoiding common pitfalls. It also allows them to revel in each other’s company and enjoy friendly competition.  Last weekend, chess connoisseurs of various ages gathered for an afternoon that included chess matches, trash talking, and exchanges about strategy. The event, touted as “Chess Fun Day” attracted dozens of men from across the D.C. metropolitan area that converged on the Big Chair Chess Club in Northeast, Washington, D.C. for the festivities.
“We wanted to bring some enlightenment about chess and its history. Our black community should know that it’s something to do,” Ricky Norman, manager of the Big Chair Chess Club, told AllEyesOnDC during the daylong gathering on Saturday, Feb. 27.
Since its 2003 inception by convict-turned-chess teacher Eugene Brown, the Big Chair Chess Club has been instrumental in helping at-risk District students change their lives for the better. The nonprofit organization’s mantra “[T]hink before you move” draws parallels between navigating the chessboard and making prudent life decisions. Norman said chess can be a tool for self-improvement, helping young people increase discipline and focus.
“For me, chess can be very personal. I get people who come in [the Big Chair Chess Club] and want to compare themselves to others. It’s about doing the best you can and improving. Some people say chess makes you think. I say that this game gives you an opportunity to think. That’s when the epiphany comes,” said Norman, a 54-year-old Northeast resident.
Since chess Grandmaster champion Bobby Fischer popularized the game in the 1950s, people of various ages around the world have taken to the chessboard at home, in school, recreation centers, and during tournaments. Research has confirmed the benefits of playing chess, including brain stimulation, prevention of Alzheimer’s, and an increase in problem-solving skills.
Under the direction of the Big Chair Chess Club, students from Kimball Elementary School in Southeast have won seven city championships. School administrators also noted behavioral changes in students who participated in the extracurricular program. Years later, Norman and his colleagues are carrying on that legacy from the confines of Big Chair Chess Club’s Deanwood-based abode.
Throughout much of Saturday afternoon, men occupying the chess boards in the clubhouse stared attentively at the white and black pieces as old school R&B tunes blared from loudspeakers. Shortly after stepping through the doors of the Big Chair Chess Club, guests watched ongoing matches while nibbling on snacks and chatting amongst one another. Photos of historic and contemporary black figures lined the walls. Stacks of the instructional material also sat on wooden tables.
For Germantown, Maryland resident James Washington, Chess Fun Day would be an experience for the entire family. That afternoon, he and his wife watched as Norman showed his grandchildren how to move each of the pieces on the board. His son Ben, an ardent chess player, gleefully recorded the short session.
“My grandchildren been exposed to chess at home before but it’s great to see how enthusiastic they are playing with a professional. Even though they may not know all of the rules, they’re blessed with the basics,” said Washington, 60. “Everyone has to deal with the game of chess at their own level. It’s the same thing with life. The children need to deal with what they can understand and grasp it so they can progress. It’s all about the decisions you need to make for your next steps.”
Local chess coach and the longtime Big Chair Chess Club member Doc said learning the game opened up many doors for him in his social and professional life. Since Brown taught him chess at Kimball more than a decade ago, Doc has imparted his knowledge on young black men seeking mentorship.
“I often see students who don’t want to play sports but love chess. Some of them get proactive, picking up books from the library. They get excited about the game and don’t want to lose,” Doc, a chess coach at Eagle Academy Charter School in Congress Heights and Washington Yu Ying Charter School, a Chinese immersion center near the National Cathedral in Northwest, told AllEyesOnDC.
“In this game, they get the mental challenge they don’t receive in school. This is where they learn life lessons including outlining and contingency planning. I see what the game does and the type of people it attracts. It takes a lot of mental fortitude to play an hour and a half of chess,” Doc added.
Anthony Womack, a chess player of eight years and one of the organizers for the event, shared similar thoughts. He revealed his plans to introduce chess to his students after watching “Life of King,” a movie about Brown starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. On Saturday afternoon, he played several games of chess and chatted with elders about their life experiences.
“I just wanted to feel the spirit and ambiance of being around other chess players. This game is a meeting of the minds,” said Womack, founder of MisUnderstood, a Halifax, Virginia-based life skills training program for young men. “No matter what’s going on in life, amazing things happen when you push those pieces on the board. Folks say black people don’t play chess and it’s a challenge but I learned a lot from the game.”
Womack continued: “After playing, I understood that you have to be prepared to move with life’s changes and pick up a new strategy.”